It’s Never as Easy as it Looks

When I started taking my practice tests for taking the theory test in preparation for getting my driving license, I was failing ALL of them – miserably. I believed it’s because the translations from Spanish to English for each of the questions/answers is wonky. But I persevered, while complaining bitterly. Jeff listened to my complaints and was less than sympathetic.

‘I took one of those free practice tests online when we first got here. I passed it without doing any reading. I’m not sure why this is so hard for you – you’re making too big a deal of it. I think I could just sign up for the test and pass it on the first try.’

Did that make me feel good? No – it did not. But maybe he was right, I thought. Then I wondered if I wasn’t as smart as I had thought I was. Was my brain calcifying? Was it early onset Alzheimers? I would read some of these crazy questions and even crazier answers out to him and he acted like it was a piece of cake.

‘You just need to read the questions slowly. I think you’re going too fast and you’re missing it when they say ‘Always’ or ‘Never’. Those are the words they tell you to be on the lookout for when taking tests.’

I would look up at him from my chaise – ready to throw a lamp or my phone at him, thinking ‘Patronizing asshole – this joker has not a clue!’ but also ‘Has all the grey matter from my brain disappeared?’

Fast forward to this week. El Jefe is using the same online practice tests I did. It’s the best one out there because they have the actual tests that you could experience when taking the theory test at the DGT office in the rice fields. But driving licenses are in my rear view mirror and I am busy editing my book, so I’ve been super focused on that. When he randomly emerges from the office it startles me.

‘What the HELL?! Have you seen some of those questions? (Is he kidding?) I have to take a break. This is crazy! I missed 6 tests in a row! SIX! It’s like they want you to fail. I think you can only miss 5 questions to pass (actually it’s 3, but who’s counting). Here, let me read one of these out to you. You tell me what you think the answer might be.’

Oh, how I wanted to say a simple ‘I told you so.’ And remind him of his ‘I think you’re making this harder than it needs to be.’ But I just listen to his rant. While my inner dialogue is Gloat, Gloat, Gloating. I want to hold up that piece of paper that I keep in my wallet that says ‘Provisional’ driving license and use it to fan myself. I want to display my giant ‘L’ prominently on the side board, and say ‘Wait – didn’t I already pass this test?’ But I do none of those things.

He reads me the offending question and awaits my response. Without hesitating I tell him the correct answer ‘Animals can only be on the right side of the road.’ I say with total dead pan – returning to my laptop.

He looks stunned. ‘But look at the picture. It shows animals running all over. So clearly they can be anywhere.’

I shake my head without looking up – or I know I’ll laugh. ‘You need to understand. When they ask you something with ‘can’ – what they mean is ‘allowed’. It’s pretty simple once you figure that out.’

He is stunned.

‘Oh, and never, ever go by the photo. That will trip you up every time. The photo has nothing whatsoever to do with the answer.’ And then I return to my manuscript while listening to him make the ‘Eh!’ sound, fling his arms in the air, and then marching back into the office like a teenager.

I’ve never been one to celebrate another person’s lack of success. It’s not in my nature. But this moment – just this moment – I’m going to allow myself that most human of emotions by delighting in what will certainly be his temporary defeat. And whispering to myself, more than a few times ‘Oh wait, I told you so.’

No Passa Nada

I know some people who moved here after we did. They had been reading my blog and told me, on more than one occasion, ‘All we had to do was ask ourselves ‘What would Kelli do?’ and then do the exact opposite’. Sure, I’m pretty clear I’ve made some mistakes, but it’s all learning. That’s what moving to another country, and life, is all about. And in the end, I’m pretty happy with where we’ve landed and the life we’ve made for ourselves in Valencia. So it’s all good. No one else has to agree with it – but then, they’re not me, with my life goals.

The ‘L’ isn’t for ‘Lovely’ – but it should be.

I must have done something right, though, because after 6 driving lessons, today I passed my practical driving exam. That’s right, Valencia – look out cause there’s a new driver on the road and she’s fully qualified on these crazy streets we call call home. I’m about to embrace all the wonderful driving habits I’ve witnessed on a daily basis. Mad Max and his Thunderdome has nothing on these people. And now I’m one of them. Shooting across an 8 lane roundabout without lines, sailing off to my third exit from center lane like a pro, while yielding on a red with a yellow flashing arrow. A total piece of Santiago cake. I’m pretty sure I’ve used up some of that dispensation of sins I got when I picked up my Compostella in Santiago in July 2017. Oh well, I’ll just have to walk another one.

And once again, I am rated ‘Apto’ – ‘Suitable’ in Spanish. And Apto is good enough to drive in The Octagon that is Valencia city. I collected my placcard at the Autoescuela this afternoon. For the next year I will be sporting a large ‘L’ on the back of the car I have yet to purchase. It’s to warn everyone that I’m still a ‘Learner’.  But when I think about it, maybe I should have had that plastered to my ass for the last year to warn others to ‘Look out – she’s ‘learning’ to live in Spain!’ Because moving to Valencia has been a lot like going to school. You start out in Moving-to-Spain kindergarten knowing nothing but how to take naps and eat snacks. Then one day you graduate from How-to-Navigate-Valencian-Bureaucracy High School, wondering where the time went and hoping for an advanced degree in your future.

What I’m most looking forward to is driving outside the city. I can’t wait to get to my first uphill, mountainous, one lane road resplendent with a donkey cart and a cement truck and some random cliff-side road work, so I can test out my knowledge of uphill right of ways in real time. Until then, I’ll stick to the city where I can hone my skills on ‘Las Glorietas’ heading out to Shopping City.

In a week I get my provisional license and within the month my new official license will arrive from Madrid. Now I move on to the next thing. Our visa renewal and then, maybe, just maybe my scooter license. But for today I’ll raise a glass with friends and toast to being an ‘Apto Learner’ Spanish licensed driver. And that feels pretty damned good.

And Now We Wait

This morning I made my way to the Autoescula across town, where I have been taking my driving lessons. At 10 am we went to the starting ground for the practical driving exam. It was time.

On a wall I saw ‘Nunca sabras de lo que eres capaz hasta que lo intentes.’ by Charles Dickens. In Ingles it means ‘You never know what you are capable of until you try.’ I decided that’s all I really was there to do – try.

I agreed to go first. Someone else in the school was taking a motorcycle test there too. But he would go after me. I’m not going to say it was my best day. My usual clutch work wasn’t as smooth at I would have liked. In the US they don’t judge that part, but here it’s all part of the exam points so I’m sure I lost some for that.

I only had one real error and she explained it after. She said that alone wasn’t a disqualifying error, so I am not sure if I passed or not. But I certainly tried. My teacher thinks I still passed but he said we won’t know until noon tomorrow.

In the end, even if I have to take it again, at least I gave it a shot. I was very nervous and you could tell I wasn’t alone. Plenty of other people were pacing and biting their nails. Because, well, driving in Valencia – especially in the area where you take the test, it very difficult. Narrow streets, blind right of ways, zebra crossings aplenty, lights in roundabouts, go-rights-to-go-lefts, and more. My teacher said other people from Spain move here and they take lessons to drive specifically in Valencia, because it’s so crazy.

If I could have gotten some extra credit for learning ‘Driving Spanish’ I would have rocked that! Because I know I was the only person there who had to test with a language handicap today. Its amazing what you can understand when you’re stressed out. Suddenly, every direction I was given was crystal clear. It’s like my brain decided to help me out for once. It opened the secret room where it’s been keeping all the Spanish input I’ve received in the last year and decided to give me 25 minutes of free reign, before slamming the door in my face again when the test was over. That’s probably why my clutch work was so bad. My brain can only do 75 things at once. And 76? No, something had to give – the clutch.

Now I just have to wait. Tonight I have try outs for my second soccer team so I’m on to the next thing to focus on. Today is all about just Trying with a capital ‘T’. And just celebrating that. Tomorrow is a whole other day. And I’ll worry about it then. I figure – if I passed, it’s just what Forrest Gump said. ‘Just one less thing.’

Zen and the Art of Learning to Drive in Spain: ‘This is why we can’t have nice things’

I don’t know much. But one thing I have learned after two driving lessons is that driving a stick is no big deal. Yup – only killed the engine once in an hour and a half, after stopping at a light and trying to start forward in 3rd gear.

Another thing I learned is that I drive like an American. As a practical matter, this is not a bad thing. But if I want to pass the Spanish driving test I need to unlearn nearly everything I was taught in Driver’s Ed in high school and have employed for the last 36 years.

When we are taught to drive in the US we hear ‘Head on a swivel’, don’t just trust your mirrors. Use them, of course, but also turn your head and check your blind spots. But in Spain, you only use your mirrors when changing lanes. If you turn your head you’ll fail the exam.

Part of passing the exam is theatre – I was advised today. While not twisting my head, I must exaggerate my examination of any zebra crossing so that the examiner sees I’m observing my surroundings, without actually turning my head. All while taking instruction from the examiner in Spanish.

Next, now that I’m a proficient manual transmission driver, I shall never downshift. This would mean I would be taking my hand off the wheel. And keeping my hands at 10 and 2 are of a top priority. I will use the brake and the clutch and then shift into a neutral position – never using the engine to slow the car.

Turning left in front of other cars must be done on the axis point of intersection. It may feel like I am going to run into the other cars but this is ‘normal’. And making a right turn, no free right turn. Only turn on green, but then immediately I must follow a second set of lights to determine if I can proceed.

Speaking of lights, where is the stop light? It’s not the one across the intersection on my side – where it has been in nearly every country I have ever driven in. Nope. If I stop at the line, it will be directly above me or on a pole on the side walk on either side of my car so I’ll have to crane my head to see it.

So, after everything I was worried about, the stick was the least of my concerns. And we haven’t covered parallel parking yet. Here they like to bump the other car’s bumpers, while shoe horning their car into a space that could be smallish – or it could be huge. But either way, there will be bumper bumping. It’s just the way it is.

Jeff was looking out of our apartment window down to the street and called me over to the window.

Not close enough

‘See. This is why we can’t have nice things. I’m not buying a nice car here. Every bumper is dinged, scraped or punctured. I’d freak out if we had any one of the cars we had back home.’

After the lessons, we rolled into the street in front of the Autoescuela. The instructor said I did really well. Apparently, I drive like someone whose had 5 lessons, so after our lesson tomorrow he will inform me how many more I’ll need. Then he told me that tomorrow he was sure I would be able to ‘not run any red lights’. I was a little taken aback.

‘I ran a read light?’ I asked. If so, he never said.

‘Just one.’ he smiled. ‘That’s very good.’

Then he bid me a hearty ‘Hasta Manana!’

It gave me a whole new appreciation for those Autoescuela cars I see everywhere, and it’s a reminder to give them a wide berth in the future.

I’m deep into it now and I’m going to see it through. The instructor told me all I have to do is ‘Fake it for 25 minutes.’ All I have to do, during the practical exam, is forget everything I know about driving and do everything my instructor is teaching me now. And then I can go back to driving like I know how to drive – of course finding all the stop lights and such.

And then I can buy a car that I won’t care about at all. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing – perhaps that’s the Zen part.

The Sun Also Rises

Time smooths out the rough edges of memory. Sometimes it makes the past seem rosier than, perhaps, it really was. We are home from Ireland. We were excited to spend Christmas in New Years in weather that felt like so many holidays of the past. Especially all the years we spent in Seattle. And it did.

But here’s the thing. Being back in Valencia it’s sunny and 65 degrees. And boy does it feel wonderful to be warm again. And Jeff, who really missed winter in Seattle (why, I don’t know) is happy to be warm too. Here, there is no bone-chilling wind. Hats and gloves have been put away. We can have our morning coffee without a coat and scarf again. It feels good.

We’ve hit the ground running too. We found a dentist and Jeff has already gone and seen them. I often hear that ‘socialized medicine’ means long lines and weeks of waiting for an appointment. We went yesterday to a clinic who had no idea who we were and he saw the dentist today. We anticipated it being much more difficult. So one more myth debunked.

This morning, I walked across the city to an Autoescuela that speaks English. Yes, these rarest of the rare actually do exist here in Valencia, like unicorns. You don’t see them and they don’t make themselves known. But my shot gun approach of talking to everyone I have ever met here about needing an English speaking Autoescuela to get practical lessons has paid off. Someone knew someone, who knew someone who once took lessons at a place where the instructor spoke English. And the lady there was surprised I got my theory test taken/passed all on my own without a school.

Next Tuesday morning I will be taking my first hour and half lesson to learn how to drive in Spain on a manual transmission. The woman who signed me up has as much English as I have Spanish (her husband – my instructor speaks English). She asked me what I was most wanting to focus on. I told her ‘manual transmissions and round abouts’. She nodded knowingly.

But at least I’ll be taking all my lessons in daylight. I feel very sorry for this man already and I haven’t even started. He has no idea what he’s in for. But his wife told me – via Google translate voice – that once I’m ready, passing the practical test in Spanish won’t be an issue. I asked her how many lessons she thought I would need. She said her husband would have to determine that, after a nervous laugh. Ugh.

I’ve also started gathering and filling out the paperwork for the residency renewal in March. Nothing like having a few balls in the air at the same time. But it seems like a much less arduous process than the original visa appointment. No Apostles – No background checks. Pretty straight forward. It seems the hardest thing so far is getting the government website to cough up an appointment time. It may require professional help to get it across the finish line.

Coming home to Valencia feels good. While we could speak the same language as the people in Ireland, it didn’t feel like home. It’s nice to be back to our grocery stores where we know we can get what we need. Where to get a haircut and our favorite coffee place. Poundland has nothing on our El Chino. I was disappointed in Derry when I didn’t get a gift with purchase beer upon leaving.

Our flight home was full of Irish students heading back to Universidad de Valencia after the break, and others like us. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief that at midnight when leaving our Metro station near our flat – it was still 55 degrees. Suddenly, the language barrier doesn’t seem so high anymore.